The health gap: New mortality rates show how the north loses out to the south

New mortality data highlights serious divisions across England but is intended to help councils improve public health

If you are lucky enough to live in the borough of Wokingham, you can breathe a little easier today – your chances of living to a ripe old age are better than in any other part of the country. However, if you are reading this at home in the city of Manchester – the new is not so good.

For the first time Public Health England (PHE) has mapped mortality rates across the country so that local people and councils can see where they rank for premature deaths from the four main killers: cancer, lung disease, liver disease, and heart disease and stroke.

The figures, which are available on a new website, Longer Lives, reveals “shocking” disparities between mortality rates in richer and poorer parts of the country, with a wide north-south divide.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the regional variation “cannot continue unchecked” and called on councils to work harder on public health.

However, the publication of an early death “league table” has already alarmed local authorities who say it “dangerously oversimplifies” complex health problems.

The figures show that people living in the worst performing area, Manchester, are more than twice as likely as people in Wokingham, in the south of England, to die before the age of 75. On average, for every 100,000 people who live in the south, 258 will die prematurely, compared to 308 in the north.

Local councils recently took over responsibility for public health, including initiatives to cut smoking and drinking and lower obesity rates, from the NHS. They are now under pressure to improve in order to achieve Government targets of saving 30,000 lives a year by 2020.

“This shocking variation in early and unnecessary deaths means more people’s lives are needlessly cut short, and that cannot continue unchecked,” Mr Hunt said. “I want areas to use the data released today to identify local public health challenges like smoking, drinking and obesity.”

Local authorities have been given a ring-fenced public health budget of £5.46bn over the next two years. Overall, 103,000 deaths in England every year are considered preventable and one in three occurs under the age of 75. At present, England lags behind the rest of Europe for early deaths, ranking seventh out of 17 countries and 15 for women. 

While the worst-performing areas were almost all among the most deprived in the country, some areas bucked the trend. Rotherham achieved lower mortality rates than more affluent areas such as Bristol, Brighton and Hove and Slough.

Dr John Radford, the town’s director of public health, said that the council had targeted public health interventions at Rotherham’s 11 most deprived areas. Problems associated with obesity, such as heart disease and stroke, were being  tackled by a council-funded fat-fighting programme, which includes free exercise classes and diet advice from a local leisure centre for overweight people, he said.

“Very few areas in the country offer a comprehensive obesity service,” Dr Radford said. “It’s all about working with communities, and getting people into existing services.”

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at PHE, said that making regional health data available to the public would help councils share successful ideas.

“There are inequalities and England is not doing as well as it could,” he said. “Longer Lives is an initiative presenting a clear picture of health in local areas – where it is good and bad – so everyone involved can consider and agree how to make improvements from a common basis of knowledge.”

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that figures from the Longer Lives league table and map should be taken “with caution”.

“The reality is that in many cases it could take years before we see reductions in the number of those suffering with conditions like cancer or heart disease as a result of new public health initiatives,” said Cllr Zoe Patrick, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board. “Using [this data] out of context to create any sort of national league table dangerously oversimplifies matters and ignores the very complex socio-economic and cultural factors that affect the premature mortality rate.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific